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Cell handling by dielectrophoresis

Schematics of channel-electrode configurations used in DEP studies on light microscopic images of the microalgae Crypthecodinium cohnii. Electrode configurations are (a) planar parallel, (b) planar interdigitated, (c) modified planar interdigitated, (d) micro-post and (e) angled.

Subjecting a biological cell in solution to an inhomogeneous electrical field may elicit a dipole moment that can interact with the field. In consequence, an electrical force may be exerted upon the cell, which is called dielectrophoresis (DEP) or dielectrophoretic effect. The mainstream of biotech investigations in this field is related to the manipulation of cell flows in microfluidic channels, into which the DEP is introduced by a set of metallic electrodes. The DEP force may either be attractive or repulsive, depending on whether the cell is drawn towards or away from the electrode with a high field line density.

DEP is a remarkable phenomenon, since different cells may be sorted according to their different polarizabilities – without labelling them, as shown in the schematics. The technique has thus been applied for instance for sorting different E. coli strains or microorganisms with varying densities of cell organelles. Within the Joint Lab, DEP is investigated with respect to the improvement of bioprocesses.

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